By his own count -- and he admits he might be underestimating just how bad it really was -- Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie went through $5 million in his first two seasons in the NFL.
Poof. Just like that . . . all that cash -- which was almost all of the guaranteed money from his rookie contract with the San Diego Chargers -- and. . .
"Gone. Just gone," Cromartie said the other day during a conversation in the Jets' locker room.
The spending was non-stop: There were nine cars, two expensive homes, piles of jewelry, extravagant gifts and cash -- lots of cash -- to friends and family members who would simply ask, and shopping sprees that ran into the tens of thousands of dollars. Cromartie spent so much on so many things and so many people he can't even remember where it all went.
Take his automobile collection:
"I had two Dodge Chargers, probably spent $100,000 just fixing them up," he said. "I had a '65 Caprice, which I spent $100,000 on. I had two BMWs, two Escalades."
Cromartie doesn't remember the other two cars. And he said he came close to buying a Lamborghini, a car that can cost $500,000 or more.
"I was out of control," Cromartie said. "I remember [former Chargers teammate] Quentin Jammer used to tell me to slow down, but I couldn't do it. I just loved spending money."
But these days, Cromartie's favorite car is a Toyota Prius, a hybrid sedan that many middle class Americans drive. He brags about how little he spends on gas.
"I'll fill it up every 2 1/2 weeks or so, and I'm only spending 33 bucks, while everybody else is spending 80 or 90 bucks a tank," he said. "Right now, I'm all about saving money."
Can this really be the same guy, even after agreeing to a four-year, $32 million contract with the Jets in 2011? Is he really pinching pennies and watching every dollar? Has he truly matured as a person? Cromartie insists he has, as evidenced by his financial turnaround.
"Right now, I try to put away as much money as I possibly can and live on a budget," Cromartie said. "I learned the hard way."
The transformation from profligate spender to frugal consumer has been a stunning and unexpected one for Cromartie, who is now the one telling his younger teammates about the perils of over-spending.
Cromartie's off-field reputation is known more for the fact that he has 10 children with eight different women. But the 29-year-old cornerback, who is now married and has two children with his wife, Terricka, has since become an unlikely advocate about the virtues of financial responsibility.
"I want to help others learn from what I did wrong," said Cromartie, who has become the Jets' No. 1 cornerback now that Darrelle Revis has been traded. He is also taking on a greater leadership role in the locker room, and part of that approach is geared toward helping the Jets' younger players deal with financial issues.